U.K. Approves FKA Twigs' Calvin Klein Ad, But Not Billboards

U.K. Approves FKA Twigs' Calvin Klein Ad, But Not Billboards

Published: March 06, 2024

U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has reversed its decision to ban Calvin Klein's ad featuring singer and dancer FKA Twigs, but with a major restriction that still bans billboards.

The initial ban, based on complaints of objectification and sexualization, has been overturned following the U.K. watchdog’s decision to review the original ruling after an Instagram post by the singer-songwriter went viral and an appeal by Calvin Klein was made.

“Our decision to ban only the poster featuring FKA Twigs was widely criticized, not least by the singer herself. We’re not deaf to the commentary that surrounds our decision-making,” the ASA stated in a blog post about the republished ruling.

“We’re genuinely interested in hearing what people think and have to say. And we’re not afraid to challenge our own thinking and change our decisions if we think we’ve got it wrong.”

However, the ASA still deems the ad “overtly sexual (though not sexually explicit)” and “not suitable for display in an untargeted medium, a poster, where anyone could see it,” especially children.

This means that billboards are still banned, and FKA Twigs’ Calvin Klein ads can only be used for targeted advertising.

The Controversy Surrounding the Ads

FKA Twigs’ Calvin Klein ad became controversial after the ASA banned it in January, while approving ones with celebrity model Kendall Jenner for the same “Calvins or Nothing” campaign, sparking debates about racial discrimination.

ASA thought Jenner’s ads to be “mildly sexual and sexually suggestive, but not overtly sexual.”

Kendall Jenner's ad for the same campaign, "Calvins or Nothing," was not banned.
Jenner in Calvin Klein's "Calvins or Nothing" Campaign | Source: Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein defended both ads, asserting that they celebrated diversity, empowerment, and self-expression.

“The images were not vulgar and were of two confident and empowered women who had chosen to identify with the Calvin Klein brand, and the ads contained a progressive and enlightened message,” a Calvin Klein spokesperson said at the time.

Meanwhile, FKA Twigs went to Instagram to air out her concerns, even stating her belief that “double standards” affected the ASA’s decision to ban only her ad.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by FKA twigs (@fkatwigs)

“I do not see the ‘stereotypical sexual object’ that they have labeled me. I see a beautiful strong woman of color whose incredible body has overcome more pain than you can imagine,” FKA Twigs wrote on Instagram.

“In light of reviewing other campaigns past and current of this nature, I can’t help but feel there are some double standards here,” she added.

The ASA Defends Its Decision

Although the ASA revisited and amended its original ruling, the U.K.’s advertising watchdog defended itself amidst criticisms of racial discrimination.

“The race or identity of the women was not relevant to and did not form part of our rulings, either original or revised. What’s relevant are the differences between the images,” the ASA wrote.

The ASA drew further criticisms as actor Jeremy Allen White’s viral ad for the fashion brand’s Spring 2024 underwear collection was released almost at the same time as the decision.

This made the debate about the ban on FKA twigs’ ads more heated, with gender stereotyping coming into the mix.

The ASA also addressed this in its blog, expressing how this also figured into the republished ruling. “The challenge was that if FKA Twigs was objectified, then surely Jeremy Allen White was too?”

To this, the ASA explains that they did not receive any complaints about the ads within the UK, so they could not do anything about it.

The controversy surrounding FKA Twigs' Calvin Klein ad highlights the complexities of regulating ads, something that the ASA said it's fully aware of.

“As the advertising watchdog, we’re tasked with making decisions on what is and isn’t likely to cause harm or offense. We won’t please everyone all of the time – that’s not possible – but we will take account of content, context, and likely audience,” the ASA stated.

“We will listen to what people think. And we’ll always be prepared to challenge our own decision if we think we’ve got it wrong,” the ASA promised.

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